Good library assignments, part 1

I’m putting together a workshop tomorrow for teaching librarians about good research assignments — so I went looking to see what else has been written on the topic. I found lots of good stuff (I’ll talk about that later) but mostly what I found were rules — do’s and don’ts — embedded into pages about “when to ask for library instruction.”

(I bet you can predict what the rules are).

But here’s the thing – I break the rules all the time. In the last five years I have:

  • Taught classes without the faculty member present!
  • Said. “okay, sure!” when I was asked for a scavenger hunt activity.
  • Scheduled workshops for classes that don’t have research assignments, and which aren’t going to have research assignments.
  • And in one memorable case – integrated a scavenger hunt into a workshop for a class that was in the library without their instructor, that was a third again too big for every student to have an hands-on computer AND that didn’t have any kind of research assignment.

I mean, I don’t break rules for the thrill of breaking rules. And it’s not like we have anything so structured as “rules” here anyway. But I know them, just like we all know them, which means that even though I had good reasons for doing all of those things, I felt I had to figure those reasons out and justify those choices.

But I realized this morning that … I’m tired of rules. Or, maybe it’s more that rules make me tired. The effort to control and regulate a bunch of external conditions to make the one-shot — which has a bunch of moving parts that are uncontrollable — work is really tiring.

(And the rules have a nasty little unstated flip side — the one that says if all of the rules are followed, then the only reason why the one-shot isn’t awesome is librarian failure. That exhausts me even more.)

So in thinking about “good library assignments” the last thing I feel like doing is coming up with more rules. That’s right, not even “no scavenger hunts.”

I’m trying to pull together 3 pieces of interconnected thinking here. I don’t think I’ll talk about them all today – but I am hoping they’ll cohere if I talk about them. Here they are:

War stories: Thinking over “bad library assignments” I have seen – what are the broader categories?

  1. Assignments that require students to use, locate or manipulate a thing that my library does not have.
  2. Assignments that require students to do a thing in an outdated or inefficient way.
  3. Assignments with no immediate payoff – that serve only an unknown future need.
  4. Mis-matches — between assignment requirements and students’ cognitive development.
  5. Mis-matches — between the assignment requirements and the audience/ rhetorical purpose of the assignment.

Truisms: What are some things that are usually true (from my experience) about research assignments and teaching research?

  1. Saying “use the library” doesn’t make the library useful.
  2. The best way to encourage students to use a research tool or collection is to design a task that is legitimately easier when one uses that tool.
  3. The library is not a shortcut. People who use the library can’t end-run thinking or evaluating.
  4. Requiring something is not the same as teaching it.
  5. Students won’t automatically understand the connections between research assignments and course outcomes.
  6. Research freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Expertise: What do we know about how students interact with research assignments that many others on campus do not?

  1. Library anxiety is real, has cognitive consequences, and can’t be fixed by requiring students to enter the building or touch the books.
  2. There are a lot of terrible sources available in library databases and on library shelves.
  3. Students will stick with what they know.
  4. Topic selection is difficult and stressful, and can be a barrier to student success on research assignments.
  5. Sometimes, it’s trying to do the right thing that leads students to do the wrong thing.
  6. Teachers and librarians have had experiences with (and built up a body of knowledge about) research and information that their students have not.

I’m going to dig into this more tomorrow, I think but for now – what do these things have to do with the rules above?

The faculty member present thing – probably nothing.  I agree that an active, involved faculty member makes my sessions better.  But I also have a lot of faculty at this point I’ve been working with for a long time — if someone I’ve assignment-designed with, taught with and published with needs to go to a conference the same week that her students need the library, I’m going to say yes.

But the rest – the rest do relate.  Because basically, I don’t think that a thrown-together research assignment, a mediocre research assignment, or a research assignment that’s separate from the class and will never be talked about again is going to make my session better.

And when we’re thinking beyond my individual session — then, a bad research assignment is going to make things worse.  So at that point, I have a couple of options – do the session without one (which I’ve done) or say, “no thanks, not this term” (which I’ve also done).

Why do I think they make things worse?  Because there are implicit messages buried in each of those “bad assignment” characteristics — let’s revisit?

Assignments that require students to use, locate or manipulate a thing to be successful — and my library does not have that thing (or enough of that thing).

Subtext:  Libraries don’t have what you need.  And perhaps even worse – librarians don’t know what you need and cannot help you.

Assignments that require students to do a thing in an outdated or inefficient way.

Subtext: People who use libraries do so because they don’t know the best way to do things.

Or, as a colleague and I used to say “let’s teach them – whatever you do, DON’T use library resources!”  This actually came from an assignment that never happened.  We wanted students to get an overview of the topic before going to scholarly sources (as you do) and we thought we might be able to embed a discussion about the differences between traditional encyclopedias and Wikipedia in the unit (yeah, yeah, it was 2005.  It was how we thought then).

We opened up our online Encyclopedia Brittanica, took a stack of student research logs, and started plugging in the words and phrases that they’d used in their initial searches.  And OMG were the results ever terrible.  We compared twenty-five student searches (because rigor) but we knew after five that we were never going to send people to the Brittanica because we’d be sending the implicit message – “whatever you do, DON’T use library resources.”

Assignments with no immediate payoff – that serve only an unknown future need.


Mis-matches — between assignment requirements and students’ cognitive development.
Mis-matches — between the assignment requirements and the audience/ rhetorical purpose of the assignment.

These are two different things, but the subtext I’m worried about is the same:  You have to use these sources, processes, and tools here in school, but once you graduate you’ll never use them again.

So what did I miss?  Plus, more to come.

Online learning webcast. June 19, 2013.


Review articles

  • Barbara A. Blummer & Olga Kritskaya (2009). “Best practices for creating an online tutorial: A literature review.” Journal of Web Librarianship, 3:3, 199-216. Link (paywall)
  • Barbara Means, et al. (September 2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. U.S. Department of Education Office.
  • Marta Somoza-Fernandez & Ernest Abadal (March 2009). “Analysis of web-based tutorials created by academic libraries.” Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35:2. 126-131. Link (paywall)
  • Shiao-Feng Su & Jane Kuo (July 2010). “Design and development of web-based information literacy tutorials.” Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36:4, 320-328. Link (paywall)


Motivation and learning

  • Richard M. Ryan & Edward L. Deci (2000). “Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being.” American Psychologist, 55:1, 68-78. Link (paywall)



Open Educational Resources


Usability & Instructional Design

Learning Outcomes



Kickstarting your ideas: A look at crowdfunding

Kickstarting your ideas: A look at crowdfunding
Rachel Bridgewater & Anne-Marie Deitering
Online Northwest 2013

Further reading:


Mollick, Ethan R., “The Dynamics of Crowdfunding: Determinants of Success and Failure” (July 25, 2012).
Available at SSRN:

2012: The year that crowdfunding was Kickstarted into the mainstream

A beginner’s guide to crowdfunding (via Rolling Stone)

25 Kickstarter tips for students (via Edudemic)


A look back at Indiegogo’s successful year in crowdfunding(via Mashable)

Kickstarter statistics page

Planning & the pitch

7 things to consider BEFORE you launch your kickstarter project (via Nathaniel Hansen)

Fund your dream with the perfect Kickstarter pitch (via Wired)

Budget & maintenance

Pricing tiers: Kickstartup (via Craig Mod) – a little old, but still useful

Email pitches: How to pitch film’s crowdfunding campaign to bloggers the right way (via theBlackandBlue)

Kickstarter’s sting in the tail: Tax (via Forbes)

How much does crowdfunding cost musicians (via NPR)


Kickstarter Controversy! Should Big Name Developers Get Involved?

Amanda Palmer’s Accidental Experiment with Real Communism

Who’s the Shop Steward on Your Kickstarter (via The Baffler)

Future Issues

Fraud: Kickstarter: Countdown to scam city? (via MetaFilter)

Kickstarter Fatigue: We’re done with Kickstarter (via Gizmodo)


Wired Design Kickstarter of the Week

The Game of Books: A Discovery Game for Libraries

Santa Cruz Public Library Inside Out

Teaching teachers to teach Vonnegut

Street books: A bicycle-powered library for people outside

Save the Brit Archivist

Seek: A game for information literacy instruction

Save the Atwater Elementary School Library

Support School Libraries

So you want to be a librarian, by Lauren Pressley (2009)

Your Kickstarter Sucks (via Tumblr)

Changes, or what’s this new job all about?

Starting today, I’m moving into a new position – Head of the Teaching and Engagement department at OSU Libraries. Long-time friends might ask, “isn’t this your fourth job in this same library?” And I would answer, “why yes, yes it is.”

It’s complicated in that I still have my third job (Franklin A. McEdward Professor for Undergraduate Learning initiatives) though the tenure-track piece of that position is on hold while I serve in the 4th.

Long-time friends may also be asking how long this position will last, in that Head of the Teaching and Engagement department requires there to be a Teaching and Engagement department — and my departmental homes have combined, re-combined and changed their names every couple of years as long as I’ve been here.

(The most memorable iteration? Undergraduate Learning and Library Information Access.)

This question is important, though, in ways that aren’t semantic or job-title related. We, like most libraries (I suspect), have always hired people specifically to be division or department heads – we’ve hired in people to manage with the expectation that management will be part of their job description. When the departments have shuffled around and moved there have been challenges – especially when the number of departments has been decreased – but when you are primarily hired on as a manager for management skills, it’s maybe not such a weird thing to move to manage a slightly different combination of people? Maybe?

But in this case, that would be a little odd. Not insurmountable odd, but odd. Because in a real sense, I’m not just taking this on to do new things and be a manager, but to manage this particular department and to work with this group of colleagues. We’re thinking about how to manage ourselves in a new way – and I think we’re kind of in it together. And that aspect of it is big reason why I wanted to do this, and why I think it’s such an exciting opportunity (that also happens to show why I really, really love working for this library).

So what’s this about “new ways?”

Well, I did a full faculty interview for this position, just as I would have if I had been applying to be the new head of Teaching and Engagement for always and ever. The difference is – I’m not. For my part, the plan is that I’ll do this work for the next few years, and then when those years are over I’ll go back to my faculty position and professorship and pick up with the research and teaching I will have to downscale while I’m department head.

(Note – I’m going to stop typing “Teaching and Engagement.” We call it TED for a reason)

For the department’s part, the plan is that someone else will step out of their faculty position and pick up TED’s administrative reins when I rotate back to my professorship. This might sound similar to the way most academic departments share their own administration and there’s a reason for that — that is the model we’re looking at.

Why are we trying this? Well, there are several reasons. One is to give as many people as possible a chance to develop leadership and management skills. Like many libraries, we’ve lost people in the past who might not have wanted to leave but who felt they had to because the opportunities for advancement weren’t going to be available here for a long time. This model allows more people to take on leadership roles — and finding ways to do that is high on our library administration’s priority list.

But this is tied up with the second reason – and a piece of this that is important to me – we’re not just talking about the department head position as the only path to leadership — we’re also talking about building a structure that builds shared governance into what we do. In other words, I’m department head now and I won’t be forever is one change. But another change is that we start doing some of the decision making, goal setting and management together.

We’re hoping we can create a model where the department head takes charge of administration, plays a strong advocacy role (both inside the library and out), participates in management of the library as a while (and brings a big-picture, library-as-a-whole perspective back to the department decisions and discussions). But at the same time, decisions that should be faculty decisions – what we teach, what we need to develop and share our expertise — will be shared.

Make sense?

I hope so, even though I don’t think any of us can tell you exactly what this is going to look like.

One thing that is true is that this new model actually reflects the way work has already been done in our department for a long time – the people in this department work very collaboratively (we’re librarians after all) but there are also structural reasons why we’re very independent in what we do – TED is 7/8 faculty and 1/8 evening reference supervisor (and as a former evening supervisor – you have to be independent to handle that work. She’s pretty much in charge for most of the hours she’s here).

We have our own things we track and are in charge of, and that’s been true for a long time. We already have a graduate coordinator, a beginning composition coordinator – faculty members running point on reference services and classrooms (and a lot more). This new model provides a way to codify that, to recognize that leadership and to recognize that leadership development is an important thing for the department and the library to support.

Most importantly – it allows us to think about what our department looks like moving into the future in new ways. The way I see it is this – we’re not rejecting the idea of vision and leadership so much as recognizing that we have vision and leadership here in spades here at home — we’ve been moving forward for a long time in teaching and instruction and reference, and we know where we want to go. Shifting to a rotating system of leadership means that we still add new people, new voices and new ideas when we can — but we don’t look to them for a vision or direction for the department — we think about the skills, the expertise and the research agenda we need in our department — and build in the idea that everyone shares in the governance, the success and failure of the unit from the start.

(You too will someday be department head!)

We were already well along this path before Menucha last fall, but we were inspired a lot by Barbara Fister’s description of shared governance at her place of work. One major difference between what we are doing and what happens there is that we are a unit within the library and they are the library. Of course, what we’re trying won’t work without the help of library administration. We’re not going to figure it all out right away – we’ll need the freedom to try and fail and figure things out.

But that said, I think that allowing us to try represents a pretty extraordinary amount of trust in us. In my interview when I got the classic question “where do you see yourself in 5 years” — my answer started with “I don’t think I’ll be the department head anymore.” I think it’s safe to say that no successful candidate for a department head position at OSU libraries has ever given exactly that answer before — and everyone’s willingness to accept that idea – embrace it even – and engage in real conversation about what it might mean was really exciting, inspiring and why I love working here.

Sloppy statistics – steroids for scholars?

Reading this article next to #overlyhonestmethods – well it’s not all rosy.

One reason I like the hashtag is because it humanizes a process that I don’t think is humanized very often – finding out that, yeah, we ran that for this many hours so we could not get up at 2:00 am – that’s a nice reminder that scientists and scholars are real people.

And some of the rest, well it humanizes the process too, but in a different way.  Instead of a reminder that scientists and scholars are real people who need to eat and sleep and interact with others and have fun and the rest of it – some of it shows scientists and scholars as real people who know exactly where their professional rewards are coming from, and who (no matter what Forbes may think) feel pressure to do the things that will earn those rewards.  And there are consequences there, and no bright line to separate the shades of grey.

Simonsohn stressed that there’s a world of difference between data techniques that generate false positives, and fraud, but he said some academic psychologists have, until recently, been dangerously indifferent to both. Outright fraud is probably rare. Data manipulation is undoubtedly more common—and surely extends to other subjects dependent on statistical study, including biomedicine. Worse, sloppy statistics are “like steroids in baseball”: Throughout the affected fields, researchers who are too intellectually honest to use these tricks will publish less, and may perish. Meanwhile, the less fastidious flourish.

Christopher Shea (December 2012). “The Data Vigilante.” The Atlantic.

Something clever about pictures, thousands of words and 140 characters

So it is probably not shocking that sometimes I can’t express myself in one tweet.

(It is probably more shocking that I ever can)

I was talking about the ACRL-OR/WA Fall Conference, which was hosted this year by ACRL-OR at the Menucha Retreat in the Columbia Gorge, and about which I went on in this post.

(View from Menucha)

Jim Holmes from Reed College did an amazing job running technology at the conference – and captured all of the amazing women noted above while he was doing so.  The results are available now.  If you weren’t able to join us (or even if you were) —

Barbara Fister gave an inspiring and thoughtful opening keynote.  Ignore the fangirl  giving the introduction.

Rachel Bridgewater put together a two hour program called Fair Use as Advocacy Laboratory, integrating a remote talk from Brandon Butler at ARL (who was also fantastic)

And Char Booth wrapped up the conference with a closing keynote that built on and wrapped around the themes of the previous two programs.  It was like magic.

Thanks again to everyone who put so much work into this conference, which means every single member of the ACRL-OR Board.  Interested in being a part of the next one?  ACRL-OR elections will be happening in the next few months.  Watch the ACRL-OR blog for the announcement.